Has a ‘bid to block a journalist’ clouded Chinese premier’s Australia tour?

Western outlets had the details while the episode didn’t find a mention in reportage by most leading Chinese outlets.

WrittenBy:NL Team
Australian journalist Cheng Lei was deported by China after detention over spying charges.

Two Chinese diplomats allegedly blocked an Australian journalist, who was jailed for three years in China, from camera view at an event part of Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s Australia tour, news agency AFP reported.

While Western outlets, including ABC, Bloomberg, and Guardian published detailed reports suggesting what the incident may mean for domestic politics as well as Australia-China diplomacy, the episode was not mentioned in reportage on Qiang’s tour by leading Chinese outlets such as Global Times, China Daily, Xinhua, or CGTN at the time of publishing this report.

The journalist, Cheng Lei, had returned to Australia in October last year after three years of detention over spying charges. Australian PM Anthony Albanese told ABC, “When you look at the footage, it was a pretty clumsy attempt, frankly, by a couple of people to stand in between where the cameras were and where Cheng Lei was sitting…and Australian officials intervened, as they should have, to ask the Chinese officials who were there at the press conference to move.”

Cheng was at the event as a presenter and reporter for Sky News Australia, and was sitting in the area set aside for media representatives in the Parliament House in Canberra. As the two sides were signing agreements at the event, two Chinese embassy officials stood near Cheng, appearing to block her from being visible to the cameras positioned on that side of the room.

Cheng told Sky News Australia that Chinese officials “went to great lengths to block me from the cameras”. “And I’m guessing that’s to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look.”

Li Qiang’s visit was aimed at showcasing stabilisation of ties between the two countries after years of turbulence. But it has been clouded by the incident, with the Australian government formally complaining to the Chinese embassy and Australian MPs calling the episode “counterproductive” and “inappropriate”.

The Australian government also issued a statement late on Tuesday raising “grave concern” at “dangerous and illegal actions by China’s vessels against Philippine vessels” in the South China Sea the previous day. “This is an escalation in a pattern of deeply concerning and destabilising behaviour by China,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s statement said.

Reuters noted that the incident involving Cheng dominated Australian media coverage of Li's Canberra meeting, and became a focus of political debate on Tuesday.

“The Chinese embassy staff refused to move even as Australian officials gently tried to prod them away. The attempt to try and hide Ms Lei backfired badly and the story quickly made headlines. Instead of being hidden, her photo was shared widely across Australian news sites,” noted news.com.au.

Sky News host Tom Connell said it appeared to be an attempt to prevent footage showing Ms Lei and the Chinese Premier in the same frame.”

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